I’m so excited to introduce my friend, Tamara Hart Heiner. We met about a year ago in one of the many online author groups that we both belong to. In fact, we’ll be meeting in real life soon! We’ll be roommates at a writing retreat and conference in Edinburgh, Scotland! I visited Edinburgh last year and quickly understood why it provided so much inspiration to J.K. Rowling. So when the opportunity arose, I just knew I was going to seize it. And now it’ll be even better with new friends to enjoy this journey!
Amie: Welcome Tamara! So great to have you here on The Files! I’ve learned that you wear many hats as an author, an editor, and the chair of a conference. Let’s start with your publishing journey. Your began this journey as a traditionally published YA author. Tell me a little about that experience.
Tamara: Yes, I got started in YA with WiDo Publishing. I had originally written what I considered a very niche book, a Christian suspense novel. With that in mind, I only queried publishers that I thought could reach that market. WIDo could, at that time. During the course of my contract, however, WiDo changed focuses slightly to include a national market. My book, by course of events, went from being a Christian suspense to a thriller suspense (almost the entire Christian element was removed.)
At first it was a rather bitter pill to swallow, but in the end, the changes they made opened up a new world to me and turned me into a suspense writer.
Amie: I guess that’s a bit of a happy accident, you could say. How many books are in your YA series? Are they appropriate for the upper age limit of middle grade?
Tamara: That YA series, the Perilous series, has four books in it. The main character is 15 in the first book, and though the topics are mature, they are appropriate for upper-level MG. (I conceived of the idea and wrote the first draft in seventh grade, so . . . there’s not anything too dicey in there.)
Amie: I love that you started writing it when you were in middle school. So many kids become inspired to write at that age and with the correct tools and some mentoring, that writing can be molded into a career. At what point did you switch to writing Middle Grade books?
Tamara: Writing Middle Grade was a total surprise for me. I thought I wasn’t capable of capturing that voice; it often felt just a little too far away from my comfort zone. When I decided to write the Cassandra Jones series, I had a very clear idea in mind for this girl’s life (which often parallels the difficulties I went through moving from a big city to a rural town!). I didn’t think the series would really take off until it hit YA-age, but I knew Cassandra’s story started much younger than that. It was a total shock to me that the series took off.
Amie: That’s great! Sometimes the best things happen when we least expect it. What do you like most about writing for this age group?
Tamara: It’s very freeing. Once I learned how to let my inner child out, I loved how much fun it was to vocalize the world kids see. I loved being able to speak out about injustices I saw and right some of the wrongs I experienced–and some of them don’t get righted, which becomes a learning experience for the reader as well as the character.
Amie: Agreed. You chose to go indie with your MG series, why? What’s that experience been like?
Tamara: The number one reason I decided to go indie with my middle grade series is I knew I wanted to tell the story in serials. I knew I would never find an agent/publisher who had the same vision and would let me have the freedom I needed to break the story up the way I wanted to. I’d already ventured into the indie world with another YA series, and I found the freedom and the ability to make my own decisions very liberating. The experience has been so marvelous for me. I love being my own publishing team.
Amie: Like you, I’ve experienced both paths. I’ve learned there’s many reasons to select indie publishing and it’s definitely not because it was a last resort. What made you decide to publish your middle grade series as mini-serials? Do you think your books would have been more/less successful if you’d published them differently?
Tamara: From the very beginning, I wanted my books to mimic a television series. I loved Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl and wanted to tell a middle grade story in much the same way. Books when I was a kid were similar, from Sweet Valley Twins to The Babysitters Club. But eventually it began to annoy me that the twins and the babysitters never grew out of the sixth grade, no matter how many books there were.
So I broke Cassandra’s life into years (seasons), and each year is broken in six episodes. This makes it very easy for me to keep track of, and it allows me to include characters and story lines that would be cut from a book as extraneous if I only had one book per year. Also, I can provide multiple formats to meet different readers’ needs. For my early readers who like big font and lots of white space, each episode has its own book. For my more advanced readers who oogle the thicker books, each season also has its own book. If a publisher had been able to catch my vision for this series, I’m certain they could make it even more successful than I have. But I know for certain none of them would have humored my pitch for six books a year for the next fifteen years. 🙂
Amie: That certainly would have been a difficult pitch! Switching gears here, let’s remove the author hat and discuss some of your other roles. You’re also a freelance editor as well as an editor at WIDo publishing. You’re the chair of the SMIAH conference. Finally, you’re the chair of The Indie Author Hub, an author guild. Tell me how you juggle all of these many hats.
Tamara: Heavens, most days it feels like I don’t! Which reminds me . . . I still need to contact the hotel to set up our contract for next year’s conference . . . yeah, anyway! Editing used to be my bread and butter. I love editing. I minored in it in college. I always figured I’d be able to make room for editing no matter what my writing schedule, but lately I’ve found I don’t want to edit as much as before. I’m enjoying the writing process too much. So I only take on two editing clients a month. It helps give me a break sometimes but doesn’t take away from my time. As for the conference and the guild, I have wonderful committees that support me and do most of the legwork. I could not do this if it were a one-man show!
Amie: Alright, we’re in the homestretch. Goobers or Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans?
Tamara: Bertie Botts. That’s the lesser of two evils.
Amie: Are you sure about that? I think I’d take my chances with the chocolate covered peanuts than earwax flavored jelly beans. Haha! Okay, skunks or porcupines?
Tamara: Porcupines. They’re like a bigger version of hedgehogs, and hedgehogs are so cute.
Amie: Good choice! Alright, now, which one? Skateboards or surfboards?
Thanks for joining us here today, Tamara. Best of luck to you and see you in Edinburgh!